Showing posts with label Terrence McCauley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Terrence McCauley. Show all posts

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Derrick Ferguson Takes The Train To GRAND CENTRAL NOIR

Compiled by Terrence P. McCauley
File Size: 349 KB
Print Length: 155 pages
Publisher: Metropolitan Crime Publishing (June 14, 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English

Okay, just bear with me for a few minutes, I cry your pardon. Those of you who have been good enough and indulgent enough to read my previous reviews both book and movie know that at times I can be somewhat long winded. But I assure you I do so for a reason and not because I’m in love with my own prose. And I’m trying to make a point here about GRAND CENTRAL NOIR that I think will illustrate exactly what I’m trying to get at when describing the feel of this anthology.

Most of you are familiar with Will Eisner and “The Spirit,” correct? Remember how every once in a while Mr. Eisner would tell stories that had nothing to do with The Spirit or maybe he would show up in the last panel or two simply because since the strip was titled after him he had to show up somewhere. In those standalone, Day In The Life stories, Mr. Eisner would tell short stories full of suspense, mystery, pathos, comedy, horror, crime or romance. Some of those stories were really very memorable. Well, at its best GRAND CENTRAL NOIR evokes the feel of some of those Will Eisner stories. And even when it’s not at its best, it reminded me of the “Naked City” TV show. Which also ain’t bad.

The concept behind GRAND CENTRAL NOIR is simple: all of the stories are set in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, the largest train station in the world celebrating its 100th birthday this year. I’ve been in Grand Central Terminal many times and it is truly one of the most magnificent structures in New York City. Thousands of people use The Terminal every day and just like they used to say on “Naked City,” they all have stories.

The stories in GRAND CENTRAL NOIR are crime stories but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for other elements to enter into these stories so that while crime is the driving force behind them, they certainly don’t all read the same. And that’s a testament to the talented writers that Terrence McCauley has compiled for this volume.

It’s never stated when I.A. Watson’s “Lost Property” takes place but it reads like a 1930’s screwball comedy/mystery and it’s an excellent choice to start the anthology with as it’s breezy, light and thanks to the rat-ta-tat-tat dialog a fun read with a conclusion that had me grinning from ear to ear.

“Train to Nowhere” by Charles Salzberg and Jessica Hall is set in modern day but it’s feel is very much that of classic noir. There’s a mystery to be solved here but I got the impression that the writers weren’t so much interested in the solution of the mystery as they were in evoking a certain mood and tone and they did indeed accomplish that.

For a while there I feared that Ron Fortier was telling me a shaggy dog story in “Fat Lip’s Revenge” but I should have known better. In the hands of an old pro like Ron it’s a story that at first appears to be going way out over there in the fields somewhere but once you get to the end you understand why Ron had to go out there to bring you back to here. Another story that had me grinning like an idiot by the end.

“Fortune” by S.A. Solomon ends just when it seems like it should be shifting into a higher gear. Not that it isn’t well written. It does a good job of getting into the head of the narrator but that ending is just too abrupt for me and left me feeling cheated out of a proper resolution to the story.

“Meet Me at the Clock” by R. Narvaez is a story that’s soaked in hopelessness right from the opening paragraphs. By the time Lew Conrad got on the train I knew that this story was not going to end well for him and I was right. And “Meet Me at the Clock” is one of several stories in the anthology that gave me the distinctive impression that the actual crime-related plot isn’t all that important to the writer. R. Narvaez is much more interested in exploring this day in the life of this second rater who deserves the fate he gets at the end of the story.

“Terminal Sweep Stakes” is what I like to call a Take No Prisoners Story. Amy Mars is telling a hard mean story about a hard mean man and she pulls no punches doing so. I have no idea if Grand Central Terminal has its own police force but the idea itself was fascinating enough to pull me into the story. The barbed wire and bourbon bite of the prose did the rest.

“Without a Hitch” by R.J. Westerhoff did have a couple of hitches for me. Including a time shift so abrupt and unclear that I actually wondered if somehow a chunk of story had been left out by accident. And the ending is way too anti-climactic and left me mumbling, “You mean that’s it?”

After reading J. Walt Layne’s “The Drop” you may be wondering where the crime element is as I did. I don’t think there is one and I don’t think Mr. Layne cares one bit. Again, this another story that I feel is much more interested in characterization and striving to craft a mood and atmosphere. This story feels ambitious, as if Mr. Layne was trying out a different type of storytelling from his usual style.

“A Primal Force” is a story about family and revenge that I admit I paid more attention to because I recently watched on Turner Classic Movies a really good biopic starring Ernest Borgnine about Joseph Petrosino, a New York City detective at the turn of the century who was put in charge of dealing with Italian criminal organizations such as The Black Hand. Petrosino and The Black Hand both play major roles in this story.

“Off Track” by Matt Hilton had me laughing out loud by the time I reached the end. Because it was a laugh that Mr. Hilton had truly earned as I admired the way he had me thinking one way and so smoothly turned the story completely around. The story’s like a great sleight of hand magic trick where the magician has you looking at one hand while he’s actually doing the trick with the other. One of my favorite stories in the book.

I really enjoyed W. Silas Donohue’s “Herschel’s Broom” because even though all of the stories are set in Grand Central Terminal, “Herschel’s Broom” is the one that to me was actually about Grand Central Terminal, if you get my drift and I think after reading it, you most certainly will.

“Timetable For Crime” by Marcelle Thiebaux is another story I really enjoyed as I like heist stories where whoever is pulling off the heist gets away with it. Criminals are oftentimes so inept in real life that it’s downright fun to see a smart criminal in fiction pull off the perfect crime. A great story that barrels along full tilt boogie from start to finish and never sets a foot wrong once.

“Mary Mulligan” is a story that’s safely in the middle of the road. There’s nothing about it that really makes it stand out but there’s nothing wrong with it either. The prose by Jen Conley is pleasant to read and the situation plays itself out in a fairly straightforward manner with no embellishment or surprises. I like Jen Conley’s prose and wish she’d really swung for the fences in this one. Still, this story is good enough that after reading it I made a notation to look up some of her other stories.

“Spice” by Seamus Scanlon is another story that like “Fortune” and “Without A Hitch” ends just where it was getting goood and I was looking forward to where it was going to take me.

Terrence P. McCauley serves up the piping hot action of “Grand Central: Terminal” as if fully aware his responsibility as clean-up is to leave readers wishing there were more stories to read and he does it with a razor-sharp spy vs. spy story. It isn’t a long story but it does a very good job of conveying a larger world outside the borders and I can very easily see more stories about James Hicks and I would love to know more about The University. If you were a fan of ‘24’ then you’ll get right into this story and enjoy it as much as I did.

Before wrapping up this review I know that the writers would want me to point out that when you purchase a copy of GRAND CENTRAL NOIR you’ll be helping out a wonderful cause: God’s Love We Deliver is an organization dedicated to improving the health and quality of life of men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses. All proceeds from this book will be donated to God’s Love We Deliver. For more information about this organization and the amazing work that they are doing, please visit their website

So should you read GRAND CENTRAL NOIR? Sure you should. Not only will you be helping out a worthwhile cause but you’ll be getting eight stories out of fifteen that are absolutely first-rate. Call those the Will Eisner level good stories. The others are “Naked City” good which as I said earlier, still ain’t bad. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Derrick Ferguson Visits The Era of PROHIBITION

Paperback: 188 pages
Publisher: Airship 27 (December 15, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0615743889
ISBN-13: 978-0615743882

I’m going to get to talking about PROHIBITION in a bit, I promise. But first, I gotta relate a little story that will assist me in making my opening point. Okay? Thank you for your patience and sit back. Here it goes:

Couple of weeks ago I’m having a Skype conversation with a gentleman who is incensed that I don’t like “Hobo With A Shotgun.” It’s a perfect modern grindhouse movie he insists. No, I politely disagree. “Planet Terror” is a a perfect modern grindhouse movie. The gentleman spends the next two minutes expressing his opinion that whatever it is I allegedly use for thinking must be composed of excrement and another minute telling me that “Planet Terror” is garbage and why on Earth do I think it’s the better movie.

“Because,” says I, “Robert Rodriguez knows what grindhouse is. The guys who made ‘Hobo With A Shotgun’ just think they know what grindhouse is.”

Which finally brings me to PROHIBITION by Terrence McCauley. We’ve got a lot of New Pulp writers who think they know what a 1930’s gangster story is. But Terrence McCauley knows what a 1930’s gangster story. Man, does he ever.

We’re in New York, 1930. The town is run by Archie Doyle, the city’s most powerful gangster who is more like the monarch of an unruly kingdom. And there’s somebody out there looking to take his crown. Archie’s got an ambitious plan in mind that will give him more power than he’s ever dreamed of before. But he’s got to stay alive long enough to see that plan through. That’s where his chief enforcer Terry Quinn comes in. Terry’s an ex-boxer and the toughest mug on two legs. But finding out who’s trying to start a bloody gang war between Archie Doyle and his main rival, Howard Rothman is going to take more than just being tough. Quinn is going to have to rely on his street smarts and think his way through this. Of course, shooting and slugging his way to the guilty party helps an awful lot, too.

PROHIBITION has a lot going for it, mainly that McCauley isn’t afraid to write characters who aren’t likeable at all. But that’s okay with me. As long as I know why the characters are doing what they’re doing and understand their motivations, I’m cool. McCauley is writing about people who have chosen a dark, dangerous and violent life and he stays true to that. That’s not to say he doesn’t find the humanity in them. He does. It’s just a humanity that manifests itself within the terms and parameters of the concrete jungle his characters have chosen to inhabit for whatever reasons people have to live a life of crime. This wasn’t an easy period in American history to live in and people had to make hard choices. The characters in PROHIBITION have to make the hardest choices of all since the wrong one can get them killed.

A lot of New Pulp writers figure that to write a 1930’s gangster story you just have to have pseudo-tough talking wanna-be’s sounding more like Slip Mahoney than real gangsters run around shooting Tommy guns. McCauley understands that the most successful gangsters of that era ran their organizations like businesses. The business just happens to be crime is all. Violence wasn’t their first resort to solve every problem. It was just as useful and as profitable to know when not to use violence as it was to know when to use it.

I appreciated the smartness of these characters. The way they talk to each other, maneuvering to gain an edge through words makes for some really solid dialog. The relationship between Archie Doyle and Terry Quinn reminds me a lot of the relationship between the Albert Finney/Gabriel Byrne characters from “Miller’s Crossing.” Imagine if Gabriel Byrne’s character was an authentic badass who knew how to fight instead of getting his ass kicked all the time and you’ll get what I mean. Terry Quinn is a guy who knows how to work the angles and his navigation through this gleefully violent story is an enjoyable one to read.

And like any good gangster story, McCauley doesn’t skimp on the sex and violence. If you want cute gangsters who pal around and crack jokes then go watch “Johnny Dangerously” because you’re not going to find that in PROHIBITION. I appreciated the tough, hard story McCauley is telling and the even tougher, harder characters who speak and talk pretty much the way I expect gangsters of that era to behave.

I’m sure that there are some who are going to be uncomfortable or even turned off by the language and that there isn’t really an ‘heroic’ character to root for. Terry Quinn is a killer and extraordinarily violent man who doesn’t make apologies for how he lives his life. Most readers like to have a lead character to root for and while Terry’s misplaced sense of honor and loyalty lifts him a notch above most of the other characters in the book that doesn’t mean he’s anywhere near being on the side of the angels. But it’s precisely because of that misplaced honor and loyalty that makes him such an enjoyable protagonist to read about.
And I can’t wrap up this review without mentioning the wonderful illustrations by Rob Moran which do an excellent job of capturing the mood and feel of the story. I’m willing to bet next month’s rent that Rob Moran has seen a lot of those great classic Warner Brothers black-and-white gangster epics of the 30’s and 40’s as that’s the feeling I got from his illustrations.

So should you read PROHIBITION? Absolutely. It’s not only a terrific way to spend a couple of quality reading hours, it’s also an important book in the evolution of New Pulp. It’s exciting to see books like this that adds another genre to expand what New Pulp is and can be. The bread-and-butter of New Pulp are the masked avengers, the jungle lords and the scientific adventurers, sure. But there’s plenty of room for sports stories, romance, westerns and private eyes. And in the last couple of years we’ve seen those. Hard-boiled crime stories are just as much a Classic Pulp tradition and I’m delighted to see it being continued and represented in New Pulp. Most definitely put PROHIBITION on your Must Read List.  

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With...BERTRAM GIBBS

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